Did Brian Williams Seek Entertainment Options?

Brian Williams

Image courtesy of NBC News/NBC Universal

Did Brian Williams Seek Entertainment Options?
| published March 11, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff


The media rumor mill has been busy in the wake of Brian Williams’ apparently indefinite hiatus from NBC News.

Williams stepped aside, presumably for about six months, after he acknowledged that he embellished certain stories from his time spent in Iraq more than ten years ago.—specifically an incident in which he claimed the helicopter in which he was riding was struck by rocket-propelled grenade fire, a claim several U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines have disputed.

Williams first announced that he would take about two weeks off from the news until the issue could be sorted out. But then, after the issue grew in scope and size, Williams was forced to take a leave of absence through mid-summer. Neither NBC News nor NBC Universal has made it clear, however, that Williams will return at all. He has been replaced temporarily with Lester Holt.

In the meantime, some media outlets are reporting that before he renegotiated his contract with NBC News, which was set to expire last year on his tenth anniversary as anchor and news editor, Williams may have sought to explore other avenues of television entertainment. According to recent articles in New York Magazine, Williams—despite the high ratings he delivered for NBC News and his likeability among the NBC news staffers and among his colleagues in journalism—he did not feel completely at ease with the job of delivering hard news. According to reports which have been circulating this week, in late 2013 and through part of 2014 Williams and his agent sought to become Jay Leno’s replacement at the desk on the Tonight Show, then, several months later, opted to explore his chances at CBS upon the scheduled retirement of David Letterman.

Some entertainment reporters and columnists have said that these incidents of outreach toward late night entertainment options indicate that Williams might have been seeking a way to step away from news and into other entertainment venues. Over the last year or so, Williams has been a frequent guest on the newly-rebooted Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, which moved from his Burbank studios in early 2014 and back to New York City, where the show originated decades before. Williams has also been a guest on Late Night With David Letterman. Letterman is scheduled to step down next year, and will be replaced as host by Steven Colbert.

Williams also once hosted Saturday Night Live, an experience which led him to say he felt more embraced by the entertainment community than by his fellow journalists. Williams’ colleagues at NBC News say that Williams felt “haunted” by the larger-than-life presence of predecessor Tom Brokaw. Williams was rumored to have felt pressure to fill the outsized shoes of Brokaw, who had come up through the ranks of a tougher form of front-line journalism than that of Williams.

Armchair analysts and media watchers suggest that this dynamic may have spurred Williams’ desire to embellish and beef-up his hard-news and journalistic resume.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Williams Resigns From Congressional Medal Board; Thursday Review; February 20, 2015.

O’Reilly’s Falklands War Experiences Challenged; Thursday Review; February 24, 2015.